God’s grace is more than enough
God’s grace is amazing. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” we sing, “I once was lost, but now am found”. Because, 5Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
It’s terrible when people belittle God’s grace and want to decide for themselves who will go to heaven and who will not. A woman, let’s call her Suzy, tells the story of her father who argued with each and every pastor about the existence of God. At his funeral the pastor said from the pulpit that unfortunately he could not bring the usual message of comfort, because everybody knew that the dead man had not believed.
This was really awful for Suzy and she decided to write her own story about how she chose to believe her father’s dying hours went. A long story, but very moving:
“Oh well”, Herman yawned as he got out of bed. With a small groan – more out of habit than pain, because he actually was a sprightly 77 – he stood up. It was still very early in the morning. He knew his room well enough to find the light switch in the dark at his first attempt. The light from the 60 watt bulb was not too bright, but he still had to close his eyes to make the transition from dark to light easier.
Slowly – as most things in his life – he walked to the bedside table where he had left his coffee flask with the last drops of last night’s coffee. He bent down to pick up his cup where he had pushed it underneath the bed before falling asleep last night. The last cup of coffee was lukewarm, but this had been his habit every morning for a couple of years now. On the spur of the moment he decided to have a rusk and then he got back into bed for a snooze until it was time to go to the dining room for breakfast.
Just as he put his hand into the packet of rusks, he heard a noise at his door. “Now what …?” On the point of asking a staff member of the old age home what they wanted so early, he stopped mid-sentence as he saw an unfamiliar face. Well, he did not think it was someone he knew, but the more he looked, the more the man looked vaguely familiar. “Morning, Sir. I fear you’re at the wrong door.”
“Morning, Herman. I hoped that you would be awake.”
The visitor’s total calmness made Herman smile. He always liked calm. That’s why he always loved nature. You never saw animals rushing around like people do. It was as if every creature knew what it had to do and where it was going, and did it gracefully and with determination.
Herman was not easily embarrassed in his life, but the overwhelming feeling that he should know this man – who was calling him by name – made him stutter in embarrassment. “Do we know one another, Mister?”
“Do you have enough coffee in your flask for another cup?” The visitor sat down on his bed, while Herman sat down amused in his lazy boy, stretching his legs out in front of him. He shook the bottle: “Unfortunately, I’ve just poured out the last …. No wait, there is a sip left!” The visitor took the flask, picked a chipped mug from the bedside table, and filled it.
“I’ve heard about your doubt.”
In an instant Herman’s attitude changed. “Ah, you’re a minister. No wonder. I’ve had this discussion with so many pastors, no wonder I can’t put names to all the faces. But I knew I’ve seen you before! Pastor, please do me a favour …” Herman stood up and opened the door. “… Take your coffee cup and go and preach to one of those senior citizens who want to listen. I was planning to have a little nap.”
The visitor didn’t move. “Good, let’s talk about something else. But for now you’ll have to put up with me, because nobody else in this building was awake when I got here, and I want to taste your rusks first!”
Herman felt a little annoyed, but then the humour of the situation got the better of him. Something about this man fascinated him. People didn’t usually succeed in fascinating him within two minutes. Slowly Herman closed the door and sat down.
“But who are you and where have we met before,” Herman asked.
“This is not bad. May I have another one?”
Chewing on the rusk the man gestured outside. “It seems to me winter has come. It’s quite cold outside.”
For the next 20 minutes the stranger chatted easily and entertained Herman so that he hardly had to comment. Strangely enough, it didn’t bother him. Normally, he was the one telling story after story without his listeners even realising that one story had actually grown into five. But he could listen to this visitor’s way of talking for hours. And what he had to say was so much more than superficial small-talk – he had so many interesting things to say, now and then touching on the philosophical. And because Herman himself liked getting philosophical, he was fascinated – his earlier resentment soon forgotten.
Herman laughed when the visitor told something humorous, and unexpectedly started enjoying the early morning visit.
When the visitor stopped for a sip of coffee, Herman asked: “Now Pastor, where did you grow up that you became such a nature lover?”
“Well, Herman, I grew up around here. I actually know this part of the world quite well.”
Before Herman could insist on a more specific answer, the man got up and walked to a small table on which a couple of pages were lying. He put his coffee down and picked up a page. “Do you mind if I read it?”
“Please do. Those are my own little efforts …”
For a while the visitor was quiet as he read and drank his coffee and periodically turned a page. “Here you describe Sutherland as a woman. A woman with a perfect body with beautiful curves. Anybody who has so much appreciation for every small flower and insect must surely live close to nature.”
And suddenly, very unexpectedly, a thought popped into his head: “How can someone so fascinated by creation not believe in a Creator, Herman?”
The question hung between them, neither batting an eyelid as they stared directly at one another. “Pastor, I’ve been looking for a sign my whole life. Just one sign that will prove there is a God. If I could have had one, just one sign, throughout my77 years, I would have believed. I would have been prepared to let go of my doubt. But nobody, no man or woman, and even less a minister, could ever give me that sign. Nobody can tell me where this God is that they follow so slavishly. Nobody has seen him, never heard him speak. And I say to you today – you can’t show him to me either.”
“Herman, these flowers that you describe here, this landscape, these wild animals and microscopically small insects you joyfully describe in your writing – each of them is sufficient proof. Why is it so difficult for you to believe?”
“Because it’s total nonsense, that’s why!” The last sentence echoed between the two men in the room and for a couple of minutes there was total silence.
Then the stranger spoke first: “Herman, I think very few people realise this, but I know that you have searched your whole life long with a sincere heart.”
Herman snorted in displeasure. “O, you say you know. At least you don’t make the mistake of thinking.”
“No, I know. And because of that, I’ve decided to give you a sign.”
“You, Pastor?” A sardonic laugh burst from his mouth. “No, not you. You talk well enough, calmly and interestingly, but you cannot give me a sign.”
“Let’s have another cup of coffee.” The visitor picked up the coffee flask from the bedside table and filled both cups.
Herman’s eyes narrowed. He knew he had emptied the flask before dawn that morning, and only now did he realise that the stranger who poured another cup of coffee when he arrived had now poured two more cups from the same flask.
“Any trickster can do that, Pastor. And if you think I’m so gullible to take that as a sign, you can think again.”
The visitor smiled, put his coffee down and walked over to the lazy boy. “Herman, do you really not recognise me?”
For a moment Herman hesitated. But the visitor pre-empted his response: “You have been searching for so long that you cannot see that you have found it.”
Herman’s hand grabbed the right-hand side of his chest as a sharp pain unexpectedly shot through him. “Do not be afraid, Herman. I’ve come to bring you the sign for which you have been searching. Every day of your life I’ve put the desire to be in nature in your heart, because there I had the most opportunities to show you a sign. Every flower that you studied, I made especially for you and planted on the road you were walking. Every morning my call was in the bird song that you loved to listen to.
Every new dog that came into your life, I selected specially for you. I was in those dogs’ worshipping eyes and loving tail wags. But you didn’t recognise me. Now I’m here, with you, next to you, within you, because I love you more than you ever loved any person or dog or place. Can you feel your heart contract, Herman? That’s because your heart already recognises Me. Your brain might tell you it’s not possible, but your heart already loves me. I’m here to pick you up. On this morning of 14 May 2009 your search has come to an end. Because now that you have the sign, there is no doubt left in you anymore. Now you can come with me, the time is right.”
Slowly but surely the darkness inside Herman started lightening up. The transition was slow, as Herman liked things. The pain in his heart faded away, a lifetime of doubt crumbled. He extended his hand to his Creator, the Creator for whom he had longed for such a long time. Eventually, he thought, eventually …
The matron who found Herman’s body on the floor between his bed and bedside table shook her head in pity. Shame, she thought – he still had half a rusk in his hand, probably wanted to get more coffee. But then she saw he had already poured coffee, but had not finished it, here was his mug still on the bedside table. As she turned around she saw the second mug also full of coffee on the small table. Poor man, she thought, he must have become confused in his last moments and poured two cups of coffee.
Suzy knew something of God’s grace.
How big is God’s grace?
Is it enough for you?
And for others?
Father, Your love is overflowing. Your love is so amazing that we cannot actually understand it. Even before we opened our eyes for the first time here on earth, before we took our first steps, You had chosen us. Not because of what we’ve done, but solely because of Your grace! Amen